Torah: A Foundation

“Many peoples will go and say, ‘Come, let’s go up to the mountain of Adonai, to the house of the God of Jacob! He will teach us about his ways, and we will walk in his paths.’ For out of Zion will go forth Torah, the word of Adonai from Yerushalayim” (Isaiah 2:2-4).

Teach me, Adonai, the way of your laws; keeping them will be its own reward for me. Give me understanding; then I will keep your Torah; I will observe it with all my heart. Guide me on the path of your commands, for I take pleasure in it”  (Psalm 119:33-35).

Torah Defined

Using a Vines Expository Dictionary of Biblical Words, the Hebrew word torah is found under the heading, ‘law’.  The explanation given for torah: “law, direction, instruction.  In the wisdom literature … Torah signifies primarily direction, teaching, instruction: “The law [Torah] of the wise is a foundation of life, to depart from the snares of death” (Proverbs 13:14).

Three interesting concepts are learned from this definition of the Hebrew word torah.  First, it is translated as ‘law’.   Second, its literal meaning is direction, instruction, and teaching.  Third, it is used in the wisdom literature of Proverbs.

Vines expounds by stating that the instructions given by God to Moses and the Israelites became known as ‘the law’ or ‘the direction’. “Blessed are the undefiled in the way, who walk in the law [Torah] of the Lord’ (Psalm 11:1).

God communicated His ‘law’ that Israel might observe and live: “And what nation is there so great, that hath statutes and judgments so righteous as all this law [Torah] which I set before you this day?” (Deuteronomy 4:8).

The word torah has another meaning according to Vines.  It comes from the Hebrew word yarah and means ‘to cast, throw, or direct.   Torah is that which God cast or threw to His people to direct them.   If someone desires to go in the direction of God, torah will lead them in His ways. “Show me your ways, LORD, teach me your paths” (Psalm 25:4).  In hundreds of verses in the Hebrew Scriptures, the word ‘law’ should have remained torah for wherever there is a teaching or instruction from Yahweh, it is torah.

According to 2 Timothy 3:16 “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.”

At the time Paul wrote this letter to Timothy, all Scripture referred to what we call the Old Testament and that included what is known as Torah or the first five books of the Bible:  Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy.  These writings teach the history of the world beginning with creation and man’s fall into sin, the flood of Noah and life afterwards, the birth of the people of faith through Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and the of the nation of Israel from the 12 sons of Jacob to slavery in Egypt, deliverance to Mount Sinai, and wandering in the wilderness until they entered the Promised Land.

God gave His torah or instructions to everyone from the beginning.   Adam and Eve had instructions about food and eventually, blood sacrifice.  Noah had instructions about clean and unclean animals, eating blood, murder and justice.   The mixed multitude that left the land of Egypt were given further instructions for living as God’s chosen people, a holy nation, and a kingdom of priests.    They had instructions about what was considered food, guidelines for cleanliness in the camp,  and rules for living morally as families in a community.  There were regulations ordering the days, weeks and months that included requirements for the proper way to worship God through the the Tabernacle and a priesthood.  There were commands for celebrating holy days that would honor God and bring glory to His name among the nations.

Hebrew Word Pictures

Torah – תורה

Tav – Crossed Sticks means ‘sign or mark’

Vav – A Nail means ‘tied together binding, and’

Resh – A Head means ‘what is most important’

Hey – A Window means ‘reveal or behold’

The Hebrew word picture for torah: “The sign or mark of being bound to what is most important revealed.”

The Hebrew root word of torah is or or the word for light.

Light –  or אור

Aleph – An Ox means ‘first or strength’

Vav – A Nail means ‘tied together, binding, and’

Resh – A Head means ‘what is most important’

The Hebrew word picture for or: “The first and what is most important.”

The Torah for a Physical People

God gave His chosen nation ways to remember His Torah. He wanted His people to be different from  the  nations around them. By giving them outward physical symbols and signs, He expected His people would remember His teachings and instructions.   He told them to write them on their doorposts, bind them to their heads, and wear tassels on the corners of their garments (Deuteronomy 6:8, 11:8).

“You will have these tassels (tzizit) to look and so you will remember all the commands of the LORD, that you may obey them and not prostitute yourselves by chasing after the lusts of your own hearts and eyes” (Numbers 15:39).

The teachings and instructions of God, however, were not meant to be not only outward and physical, they were to be embraced in the hearts of His people because He had delivered them from slavery in Egypt and its other gods.   God desired them to show their love for Him through obedience. 

“Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.  These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts.  Impress them on your children.  Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up” (Deuteronomy 6:5-7).

Unfortunately, the people strayed away from God and worshipped idols.  They did not obey God’s teachings and instructions.  There was not a problem with God’s Torah.  It was a people problem.  Even after 40 years of wandering in the wilderness and a loss of a generation, God still found fault with the people.  They still had hard stony hearts.  Hard hearts could not obey God’s Torah so He had to do something.  He had to change them.  They had to be circumcised.

Circumcision of the Heart

“The LORD your God will circumcise your hearts and the hearts of your descendants, so that you may love him with all your heart and soul, and live” (Deuteronomy 30:5-7).

Through Ezekiel, God expounds on the promise in Deuteronomy that one day He would turn their hearts from stone into flesh.  He would put His Spirit within them so that they could keep his Torah. 

“I will give them an undivided heart and put a new spirit in them.  I will remove from them their heart of stone and give them a heart of flesh. …I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.  I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws” (Ezekiel 11:19, 36:26-27).

The Hebrew word ‘laws’ in Ezekiel is mishpat.  This word means judgments, regulations, and ordinances.  Torah encompasses all of the mishpatim that God gave to Israel.

Jeremiah also prophesied about the day when God would not only give His people new hearts, but what He would do on those new hearts in the form of a ‘new covenant.’

“But this is the new covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days,” declares the LORD, “I will put My law in their minds on their heart I will write it; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. No longer will they teach their neighbor, or say to one another, ‘Know the LORD,’ because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest,” declares the LORD… (Jeremiah 31:33-34).

The Hebrew word for ‘law’ in this passage is Torah.  According to the terms of the new covenant, the Torah, God’s teachings and instructions, would be written on the hearts and minds of His people.  No longer would there be a need for ‘teachers of Torah’ that could distort the Word of Truth for everyone would know God personally.

Spiritual Torah vs. Carnal Man

“Is the law [Torah] sinful? Certainly not! Nevertheless, I would not have known what sin was had it not been for the law [Torah]. For I would not have known what coveting really was if the law [Torah] had not said, “You shall not covet” (Romans 7:7).

“The law [Torah] is spiritual, but I am unspiritual … ” (Romans 7:14).

The problem between Torah and man is that Torah is spiritual;  man is not; he is carnal and lives by fleshly desires.  Paul describes the carnal man as worldly, full of jealousy and strife and walking like a mere human being in the world. Every time an unspiritual, carnal man is confronted with the spiritual Torah, he hits a wall that he cannot penetrate.  The man is reminded of his failures and inability to overcome them because of his carnality. Thus a battle ensues between the inner desire of man to obey the Torah and what actually happens – falling short and sinning.  As Paul states, “I found that the very commandment that was intended to bring life actually brought death…. So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me.  For in my inner being I delight in God’s law [Torah]; but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin [and death] at work within me.  What a wretched man I am!” (Romans 7:10, 18-20).

Paul cries out in regards to this never-ending battle, “who will rescue me from this body of death? (Romans 7:24).

Yeshua, the Living Torah

“For what the Torah could not do by itself, because it lacked the power to make the old [carnal] nature cooperate, God did by sending his own Son as a human being with a nature like our own sinful one [but without sin]. God did this in order to deal with sin, and in so doing he executed the punishment against sin in human nature [death], so that the just requirement of the ‘law of sin and death’ might be fulfilled in us who do not run our lives according to what our old [carnal] nature wants but according to what the Spirit [of God] wants” (Romans 8:3-4).

Yeshua as the Son of God is the Torah (Word) in the flesh, the Living Torah.   As the visible image of the invisible God, he desired the same devotion from his disciples as his Father wanted from the children of Israel.  He wanted them to love him and obey the commandments (John 14:15).   Yet he knew that the heart of man was the problem, not his Father’s Torah and he established that fact in Matthew 5.

“Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill.  “For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law [Torah] until all is accomplished” (Matthew 5:17-18).

In Vines, the Greek word kataluo is translated  ‘abolish’ and means ‘to reduce to inactivity, overthrow, subvert, anul, destroy. ’  Yeshua says TWICE that he did not come ‘destroy or anul’ the Torah and no one should even think that.  The Greek word genomai is used in Matthew 5:18 and is translated ‘fulfill’. It means ‘to be performed and begin to be received’ and is used in reference to the work Yeshua did on the cross.   The Greek word pleroo is used in Matthew 5:17 and is also translated ‘fulfill.’  Pleroo means ‘to abound, render perfect and to cause God’s will (as made known in the Torah) to be obeyed as it should be, and God’s promises (given through the prophets) to receive fulfillment.’   Using these definitions of ‘abolish and fulfill’, Yeshua said in Matthew 5:17-18:

“I did not come to (kataluo) overthrow, render vain, subvert or anul the Torah, but to cause it to (pleroo) abound, be made perfect, and to cause God’s will to be obeyed as it should be; and on the cross (ginomai) this will all come to pass, happen, be performed and begin to be received.”

For a rabbi during this time, the words ‘abolish’ and ‘fulfill’ had even  different meanings.  Abolish meant to ‘wrongly interpret’ while fulfill meant to ‘rightly interpret’.   By using these words, Yeshua is is saying to Israel that he, as a Rabbi, has come to correctly interpret the Torah thus removing all manmade misinterpretations  that caused the Torah to be burdensome. He confirms to the Jewish people listening that he really is the Messiah because the ‘annointed One of God’ would never transgress God’s Torah.

Yeshua revealed the heart condition of men and their need for deliverance from the iniquity that caused them to sin.  He taught that murder and adultery were not just sinful actions, but came from a hard heart of anger and lust.  Yet, man could not change his hard heart; only God could do that. 

Yeshua spoke of this spiritual change when he told Nicodemus that everyone who wants to enter the Kingdom of God must be born again.  Though Nicodemus was a teacher in Israel, he didn’t connect the dots that the good news of being born again of the Spirit would change his carnal nature into a spiritual one.  He would no longer live his life according to his fleshly desires, but by the Spirit of God.

“Yeshua answered, “Yes, indeed, I tell you that unless a person is born from water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the Kingdom of God. What is born from the flesh is flesh, and what is born from the Spirit is spirit. Stop being amazed at my telling you that you must be born again from above! The wind blows where it wants to, and you hear its sound, but you don’t know where it comes from or where it’s going. That’s how it is with everyone who has been born from the Spirit” (John 3:5-8)

Once the hearts of men were circumcised by the Spirit and they were born again, they would become a spiritual man. God’s Torah would not just be used for pointing out their sin and making them feel like a failure every time they fell short, it would bring life. With the Spirit of God writing the Torah on their circumcised hearts, they would have the power to obey it with all their heart, mind and soul.

“But now, by dying to what once bound us, we have been released from the law [of sin and death] so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit, and not in the old way of the written code [legalistic observance of man’s laws]” (Romans 7:6).

Spiritual Torah and Spiritual Man

“Because the Torah of the Spirit, which produces this life in union with Messiah Yeshua, has set me free from the law of sin and death” (Romans 8:2).

“But if a person looks closely into the perfect Torah, which gives freedom, and continues, becoming not a forgetful hearer but a doer of the work it requires, then he will be blessed in what he does” (James 1:25).

When the spiritual man looks into the spiritual Torah,  there is no brick wall.   He sees the Torah as giving him guidelines for life. It no longer produces condemnation, but brings life through the Spirit.   The Torah becomes a covenant of love between the spiritual man and his heavenly Father.

“If you pay attention to these laws [of Torah] and are careful to follow them, then the LORD your God will keep his covenant of love with you” (Deuteronomy 7:12).

The Torah shows the spiritual man the ways to express his love to the One, who in His great mercy and grace, sent His Son to remove the law of sin and death.   The power to overcome sin and obey comes from the Spirit of God living in the new heart.   Obeying the Torah out of love for their Father was all that He ever wanted from His children.

“This is how we know that we love the children of God: by loving God and carrying out his commands. In fact, this is love for God: to keep his commands. And his commands are not burdensome, for everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith” (1 John 5:2-4).

Love Psalms to the Torah

As King of Israel, David was filled with the Spirit of God suggesting he had a circumcised heart and was born again (Psalm 51).   Not only did he have to write it out as king,  the Torah was the only way he knew of guarding God’s Word in his heart (Deuteronomy 17:18).   David delighted in God’s Torah and it had an important place in his life.   The light that came from Torah became the ‘sign that bound David to the headship‘ of God.    Writing Psalm after Psalm about his love for God’s Torah and his willingness to be corrected by its ordinances, statutes, and precepts were part of what made David a King given an eternal kingdom and a  man after God’s own heart.

“The law [Torah] of the LORD is perfect, reviving the soul.  The statutes of the LORD are trustworthy, making wise the simple.  The precepts of the LORD are right, giving joy to the heart.  The commands of the LORD are radiant, giving light to the eyes.  The fear of the LORD is pure, enduring forever.  The ordinances of the LORD are sure and altogether righteous.  They are more precious than gold, than much pure gold;  they are sweeter than honey, than honey from the comb.  By them is your servant warned; in keeping them there is great reward” (Psalm 19:7-11).

“How blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked, nor stand in the path of sinners, nor sit in the seat of scoffers!  But his delight is in the Torah of the LORD, and in His Torah he meditates day and night.  He will be like a tree firmly planted by streams of water which yields its fruit in its season and its leaf does not wither; and in whatever he does, he prosper” (Psalm 1).

“Oh how I love your Torah!  I meditate on it all day long.  Your commands are always with me and make me wiser than my enemies.  I have more insight than all my teachers, for I meditate on your statutes.  I have more understanding than the elders, for I obey your precepts.  I have kept my feet from every evil path so that I might obey your word.  I have not departed from your Torah, for you yourself have taught me” (Psalm 119:97-102).

“For the commandment is a lamp, Torah is light, and reproofs that discipline are the way to life” (Proverbs 6:23).

“The mouth of the righteous articulates wisdom, his tongue speaks justice.  The Torah of his God is in his heart; his footsteps do not falter”  (Psalm 37:31-31).

©2011 Tent Stake Ministries (Chapter from Journey with Jeremiah: Nourishment for the Wild Olive.)

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